Twenty years after Roger & Me, Capitalism: A Love Story is Michael Moore’s latest attack on American greed.
Beginning with a comparison of modern America to ancient Rome, Moore explores the rise and fall of America’s brand of capitalism. Contrasting archival footage of “the good old days” with heart-wrenching scenes of modern Americans facing foreclosure, the film describes how America has reached its current state of disrepair. According to Moore, it all went downhill with Ronald Reagan, who, at the behest of his corporate puppet masters, provided tax cuts for the wealthy and opposed labour unions. From the Reagan years onward, economics disparity between the rich and the poor widened, and average Americans were pushed into taking on more debt.
Although engrossing, the film flounders in its attempt to provide a cohesive theme. The segments are convincing, even downright shocking, but Moore has stitched them together with such a fragile thread that it’s easy to get lost. Instead of focusing on a few pertinent and compelling scenes, Moore attempts to fit as much into 120 minutes as possible. He has created a film that keeps your attention at the cost of a singular message.
It’s hard to know what Moore’s intentions are. Is he just so overwhelmed by the far-reaching effects of monopoly capitalism that he tries to cram in as much evidence as he can? Or is he hoping that if he bombards the audience with enough information, they won’t have time to stop and evaluate his argument?
Still, there are some engrossing scenes in the film. The four day sit-in at Republic Windows and Doors, and the scenes of successfully run worker cooperatives convey hope for a different future. Moore’s success may not be in providing the most objective arguments, but it is in eliciting debate by forcing his audience to ask questions about the world they live in.
All of his entertaining meandering might have been forgivable had Moore not wussed out on the ending. Despite interviewing a democratic socialist senator and expunging the benefits of worker cooperatives, Moore can’t seem to make the leap to advocating some form of socialism as an alternative to capitalism. At the end of the film he instead suggests that capitalism must be replaced with democracy.
That flat-out doesn’t make sense. Capitalism is an economic system. Democracy is a political system. Yes, politics and economics may be inextricable, but that doesn’t mean they are same thing. You can’t replace capitalism with democracy any more than you can replace feudalism with your mom’s potato salad. Either Moore doesn’t know this, and has no business discussing economics, or he does, but is hoping we won’t notice.
Ultimately, the film falls short of its lofty aspirations. The significant scenes are lost in a sea of montages, and Moore’s clumsy ending only adds to the confusion. A revolt against monopoly capitalism may be needed, but Moore probably shouldn’t be leading the way.